It was a difficult decision, but after careful deliberation, I chose to wrap up this month’s series of reviews & recaps of the best of the worst horror movies on Netflix with a viewing of “A Haunting in Salem,” based on a true story- which means it never happened at all. Ever. I have to say, as excruciatingly bad as all of these movies have been to watch- I’ve rather enjoyed writing these posts, and I hope anyone who follows this blog has enjoyed reading them, too. I have a feeling I’ll be subjecting myself to this unusual form of torture again next October- right around the time my Netflix queue should be finishing up with it’s recovery from all the damage watching these movies has caused it.
Here’s a brief summary of “A Haunting in Salem,” provided by Netflix, in case the movie title or it’s DVD cover weren’t self-explanatory enough.:
“In this spine-chilling indie horror flick, a sheriff relocates to Salem, Mass., with his family — only to discover that the house they’ve moved into is plagued by an ancient curse and haunted by malicious spirits.”
Finally, a movie about ghosts and spirits that takes place in Salem! How innovative and refreshing!
SPOILERS AFTER THE CUT. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW THIS MOVIE ENDS- DON’T CLICK IT.
Naturally, the opening credits to this movie are played over a series of drawings and etchings depicting the Salem Witch Trials- complete with close-up shots of nooses and women being hung, which I’m assuming is like cliff-notes of sorts for anyone who hasn’t picked up an American history book at some point in their lifetime, or hasn’t been forced to suffer through a viewing of “The Crucible” during an English or theater class or something. Anyway, after an establishment shot of the outside of a pretty fancy looking home (specifically, the one on the DVD cover,) we’re taken to the interior via first-person ghost-vision- which looks more like someone knocked the camera lens out of focus as they shakily walk up the stairs to where a man whose face we never see is crouched down in one of the bathrooms, filling up a bathtub with hot water, As the camera gets closer, right up behind said faceless man, he is suddenly plunged headfirst and held down by the apparition who can’t hold the camera steady and who has what I can only describe as a freakishly long arm.
After bathtub guy drowns, the apparition heads into what I think is an adjacent bedroom, where a woman is sleeping. Upon her waking up and with the help of some extremely choppy editing, she suddenly has plastic wrap over her face (but is still able to scream loudly, by the way,) until she eventually meets the same fate as the guy in the bathroom. Meanwhile, back downstairs, a guy in a rented and ill-fitting cop uniform comes home and makes his way upstairs. As it turns out, the dead woman in the bed is his wife, and the guy floating in the bathtub is apparently his son- which prompts the cop to proceed with dousing the entire inside of the house with gasoline- INCLUDING HIS DEAD WIFE’S BODY- which seems a little extreme to me. Maybe calling his cop buddies would have been a better solution.
While encountering some technical difficulties with lighting a match- more choppy editing takes place, and the rent-a-cop is suddenly pushed/hurled out of the top window of the house to his death on the pavement below. 9.5 for the front-flip he did in the process.
Cut to present-day, at least I think it’s supposed to be present-day, and there’s a mini-montage of clips of a vehicle heading into Salem, Massachusetts. I would like to point out that there’s no way this movie was filmed anywhere near location, however- since there are plants and trees that just don’t grow here in New England in many of the shots. Welcome to Salem, Southern California. The car eventually reaches it’s destination, and it’s- you guessed it- the house from the opening scene.
The driver of the car is Wayne Downs, the replacement sheriff for Salem, who is moving his family into the home after what I’m guessing was some extensive cleaning to get the smell of gasoline out of everything. He’s arrived with his alarmingly young looking wife, Carrie, his daughter Ali, and his son, Kyle. Both kids seem displeased when they get out of the car and look at the house for the first time, which is sort of baffling, because if you take away the fact that three people were literally just murdered in it- it’s a beautiful home. Ungrateful little pricks.
The Downs are greeted by the mayor of Salem, the head of the Salem Historical Society, and a creepy gardener who takes care of the property. They’re given a run-down of the house’s history, which can basically be summed up with “this place is old, every sheriff in Salem has lived here, and the gardener is a little weird. Have a nice day,” before the family go inside to pick their rooms and start unpacking their things. It doesn’t take long for the spirit/apparition/demon/whatever to start messing with the family, i.e.- moving boxes when their backs are turned while they unpack, leaving dead birds laying around (Wayne actually picks up a dead crow his wife finds in a study with his bare hands, which made my inner germaphobe recoil in horror,) and clogging a shower drain with hair (seriously,) thus raising the question as to why the un-dead don’t just cut to the chase and murder people in a quicker fashion rather than waste time with little pranks.
I mean, if you have time to send capslocked instant messages to the daughter, then you have time to do other, way more scary shit.:
Anyway, the creepy gardener is the next to go- in broad daylight,mind you- after he accidentally knocks over what looks like a headstone under a tree on the property. While he’s frantically trying to piece it back together, the demon/ghost picks up his gardening shears and kills him off-screen, putting an end to whatever the point of that plot and character was. Wayne, ever the master of observation, it would seem- doesn’t find the body until later on that night, resulting in some of Salem’s finest reporting to the scene- including a deputy named Mike. After sharing a smoke while Mike re-hashes the history of Salem and the house Wayne and his family are now residing in- including the murders from the beginning of the movie- dismissing most of it as urban legends, he brings Wayne to the area where the creepy gardener broke the headstone earlier in the day. Turns out the house is built on/next to what was formerly the burial site for the executed accused Salem witched. Don’t worry, though. They think that MOST of the bodies have been removed since. Did M. Night Shyamalan write this twist?
After Wayne heads inside, pops a few pills, and subsequently has some sort of hallucination/night terror about his wife, he’s ready to join the force in his Halloween costume-style cop outfit the following morning. Unfortunately, Ali proceeds to puke all over the breakfast table, resulting in Wayne calling into work late to stay home and take care of her while Carrie and Kyle go into town to pick up some supplies. Wayne once again has another hallucination, this one being that Ali has turned into some poor extra in horrible costume makeup- and when Carrie and Kyle return home- he doesn’t hesitate to get the hell out of there and go straight to the mayor’s office looking for the truth behind the murders that took place in his home. The mayor goes on to say the murders were actually committed by the former sheriff, who threw himself out of the top window, and that rumors suggested he’d done it because he thought the house was haunted. Also, the bodies of the executed accused witches may still be on the property, since there’s no record indicating otherwise- all information that probably would have been useful to Wayne before he agreed to move in, of course. Wayne is understandably pissed, and storms off.
Back at the house, Ali is still throwing up, and if that wasn’t bad enough, one of her teeth falls out. While she takes care of that situation upstairs, the head of the Salem Historical Society has come by the house again to drop off an extra set of keys to the place, Despite there being THREE people in the house, nobody greets her when she arrives, or when she walks through the front door, or when she calls out for any of them to answer her no less than ten times. The ghost in the house finally decides to answer her by possessing her body, making her fill a pot of water that immediately begins to boil the second she puts it on the burner of the stove (apparently the writers for this movie have never had to cook pasta before,) and stick her face into it before she collapses on the floor and is dragged away off-screen.
Wayne comes home to find Deputy Mike on his porch, and is quick to act like an asshole towards him, still very pissed off about the whole burial ground/living in a former crime scene thing. It’s revealed that Wayne is actually struggling through PTSD after killing a man in a war, a fact that was hinted at a couple of times earlier in he film (i.e.- the pills Wayne took before bed,) but never said outright. After Mike leaves, seemingly having enough of Wayne’s bullshit, Wayne grabs a shovel and gets right to work on digging up the graves in his yard. Inside, Carrie goes to check on Ali- but discovers a binder full of nice little drawings on her bed, instead. The pictures depict various faceless women being hung or burned at the stake. I would like to point out that while Wayne is digging up whatever’s buried on his property, it’s still light outside- but judging from Ali’s windows, it’s pitch black. Continuity!
Wayne has gotten nowhere with his digging, and while taking a break, he spots the same extra in bad costume makeup watching him from one of the windows of the house. Running inside, shovel in hand, he starts investigating- until a creaking floorboard makes him smash a hole into the floor. This movie is just filled with people going overboard with their reactions to things. Anyway, the hole in the floor has an old, worn folder in it that I assume came from Staples- not only because it’s identical to ones I use at my job, but because the editing team didn’t cut away fast enough in post-production to hide the visible watermark on it. Regardless, it’s filled with old clippings and miscellaneous paperwork.
Wayne’s erratic behavior causes Carrie to snap, and after she calls Deputy Mike, she tells Wayne she’s taking the kids and getting a hotel room for the night since she can’t go through another ordeal like the last time he has a PTSD-induced breakdown. Wayne’s fine with this idea, since he’s convinced the house is haunted, anyway- just as Mike rolls up. Wayne is there to meet him at the door, and when Carrie and Kyle go to leave, Mike offers to go get Ali from inside the house so that the couple can have a chance to talk even though that doesn’t seem like proper police protocol to me. Wayne explains that the paperwork he found in the house suggests that every sheriff who has lived in the house have died- but not in the line of duty. I’m not sure if this curse is strictly limited to sheriffs or ANYONE who has lived in the house- but I have a feeling that question will never be answered.
Meanwhile Ali, possessed for some reason, kills Mike by stabbing him in the head through a wall, of all places- and then somehow hangs him outside for her family to see. After retrieving her, the family are in a hurry to get the fuck out of the house, but Carrie forgets how stairs work and tumbles down them to Kyle and Wayne’s horror while Ali watches- still possessed. Carrie isn’t dead, but she’s hurt, so Kyle takes her to get her some help, leaving Wayne to go find Ali all by his lonesome. While searching the bathroom, Wayne is oblivious to Ali just hiding in the bathtub- which results in her sneaking up on him and throwing him out of the top window- just like the first sheriff we saw. Actually, I think it may be the same exact clip.
Carrie sees this, and despite possibly having a concussion, she races back inside to find Ali. It doesn’t end well, what with Ali stabbing her a handful of times in the abdomen. Carrie’s screams get Kyle’s attention while he’s still trying to figure out whether or not Wayne’s dead, which shouldn’t be too hard considering you can see him breathing- and when he goes into the house to help, he meets the same fate as his mother- only his demise comes courtesy of a baseball bat and, again, some poorly edited and off-timed shots of Ali swinging it.
Wayne decides he’s had enough of laying on the front lawn, and goes back into the house to find that his son and wife have been hung. Although the actor attempts to convey his sorrow at this tragic turn of events, I couldn’t help but notice he looked like he was smirking the whole time. I digress. Wayne snaps, and goes outside- finding a gas canister. See where this is going? He proceeds to make every mistake the last guy did, including but not limited to unnecessarily soaking the bodies of his loved ones in fuel. Remembering he has a daughter that’s still M.I.A., however- Wayne tracks down Ali, who begins speaking to him in her possessed-by-a-ghost-voice, which sounds hilariously like auto-tune. I’m not even kidding. Add some dubstep into this scene and you’ve got yourself a Top 40 hit.
Possessed Ali manages to get the upper hand after nearly choking Wayne out, but he stabs her in the neck with a knife he’d had concealed, and that’s essentially all that needed to be done. Whatever the hell took over her body flees, leaving Ali bleeding out on the floor and further ruining Wayne’s life. I briefly wondered if he’d pour gas on her, too- since he was eyeing the canister and reaching for his lighter- but despite everything in the scene having been clearly visible, the room is suddenly pitch black as Wayne struggles to get his lighter to work- setting up the final, and predictable “person is right behind them” shot. The lighter clicks on, and Ali is standing mere inches behind Wayne.
And that’s the end of the movie.
As is the case with all of these types of movies- the acting was awful, the editing was terrible, the story was either recycled garbage or made no sense whatsoever, and I was left wondering why I sat though it, since it wasn’t even anywhere near the “so bad you have to love it” category.
I can’t wait to do this again next Halloween.